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Himachal Pradesh

Population:    5.2 million
Languages:   Hindi and Pahari
Capitol:           Shimla

Himachal PradeshSpectacular scenery, cool temperatures, opportunities for skiing, white water rafting and trekking combine to make Himachal Pradesh India's favourite mountain area.  Tens of thousands of visitors come every summer to Simla which was the summer headquarters of the government during the days of the British and is now the state's capitol.  They come to the beautiful Kullu Valley with its apple orchards and deodar forests, to Dharamsala , which overlooks the equally beautiful Kangra Valley and is the home of the Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan exiles, and they visit the sulfur hot springs at Vashisht in the Kullu Valley.  Pilgrims go the 1200 year old Shiva temple in Baijnath, in the Kangra Valley area, and to Kangra (town)'s famously wealthy Bajreshwari Devi temple (sacked and looted of its fortunes several times through history), as well as to the Jawalamukhi temple in the Beas Valley which houses an eternally burning flame and is the most popular pilgrimage destination in the state.  Most of the Kinnaur area, in the east, is off limits to travelers because of its proximity to the border.  It is in this area, on Mount Khailash, that Lord Shiva is said to make his winter home, indulging in hashish.

Until 1966 Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana were a single state.  From its low-lying southern border with these two states Himachal Pradesh rises up quickly, from rice and wheat fields to apple orchards to pine forests and finally snowy peaks of over 6000 metres in the Pir Panjal, Dhaola Dhar and the great Himalayan Ranges.  Between these are the fertile and beautiful Kangra and Kullu Valleys.  In the far north are the remote valleys of Spiti and Lahaul, and in the south is the Sirmur area, another very fertile valley.

The lower, southern part of the state escapes the deep snows that cover the northern area and render many roads impassable and large areas of the state inaccessible from October or November to June.

History

As the Indus Valley civilization grew in the 3rd millennium BC it displaced a group known as Dasas, who in turn made their way to the slopes and valleys of what is now Himachal Pradesh.  Later the Aryans also came to this area, as did various tribal groups occupying culturally and geographically distinct areas.

Himachal Pradesh's terrain does not lend itself well to control by a single leader, and the residents of the various areas separated by mountain ranges and gorges have spent large periods of time through history engaging in very little or no contact with each other.  The area embodied a cultural heterogeneity that it still to some extent retains.  Between the second and fifth centuries the Guptas attempted to consolidate their control in the region, but were supplanted by the Vardhanas, who in turn lost out to petty chieftains from the Thakur community.  By the 6th century the Hindu Rajputs had gained control of the Chamba district between the Pir Panjal and Dhaola Dhar Ranges.  For the next thousand years numerous princely states controlled their separate areas warding off with only partial success the attacks of Mahmud of Ghazni in 1009 and the Tughluqs in the mid-1300s.  In the 16th century the Moghuls gained supremacy.

In the 1600s the Kullu Rajas reached their full strength, gaining dominion even over the remote Spiti and Lahaul areas had for hundreds of years been virtually part of Tibet, controlled by Tibetans and adopting Tibetan architecture and customs and trading with Lhasa.

The southern part of what is now Himachal Pradesh was controlled by almost three dozen petty rulers from the Thakur caste.  In the late 1600s both the Sikhs and the Moghuls threatened the existing power balance, with the Sikhs gaining control in western and central parts of the state.  The Thakurs appealed to the British for help against Gurkha advances out of Nepal and in exchange the British took control of the areas in the south from which the Gurkhas had been evicted.  This constituted a provocation that led to the Anglo-Sikh war, which ended in a treaty in 1846 which gave the British control of most of the south and west of the state.  Eighteen years later the British institutionalized the yearly retreat to the cool mountains by declaring Simla the summer headquarters of the government.

In 1956 Himachal Pradesh became a separate Union Territory and in 1966 it gained full statehood, with Simla as its capitol.

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